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‘Happy Feet’ Wins With This Ornithologist

For fans of March of the Penguins, Happy Feet is a delightful return to this Antarctic penguin nursery. This time it’s the animator’s turn to reveal the unbelievable-but-true miracle of the emperor penguin’s life in this most extreme habitat. It’s always big news when wildlife gets prime-time treatment on the big screen, but this story is bigger than similar talking animal films like Finding Nemo, because it is largely based on a true tale.

Aside from the dancing penguin theme, Happy Feet is very faithful to actual biology (though there are some liberties with plumages—to make the birds more readily identifiable as individuals). Likewise, encounters with leopard seals and the penguin’s sojourn north to the land of elephant seals (most certainly South Georgia Island) clearly reflect accurate input from biologists.

For me the movie’s best part was the ending, where, after our hero penguin confronts factory fishing ships, the film envisions a world in which researchers work with politicians to solve overfishing—one of the earth’s most pressing environmental issues. Appropriately, the outcome remains open—so caring adults and their children have something to continue talking about afterward. The movie could have been all fluff (and there was plenty of it, on the birds and elsewhere), but there was also substance. It deserves three and a half stars for taking us back to Antarctica in a way that doesn’t “dance” around the issues, yet also entertains and offers hope for this vast ice continent and its still-abundant wildlife. 
 
Ornithologist Steve Kress is most famous for his work restoring endangered Atlantic puffins to Maine’s coastal islands. To learn more about Kress’s Project Puffin, read "The Maine Event." You can watch puffins in action at www.projectpuffin.org/puffin-cam.html.

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Feature story link to "The Maine Event."

















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